Jim Hunter is one of the most underappreciated pitchers in Major League Baseball history. Asked to name the top hurlers of all time, most would never consider the name “Catfish,” but the Oakland Athletics understand his place in the history of both the game and the organization.
In a ceremony before Saturday’s game between two Hunter’s former clubs, the A’s dedicated the former “C Gate” in his honor, renaming it the “Jim Catfish Hunter Gate.”
Family members present included his three children, grandchildren and widow, Helen, who, through her North Carolina drawl, made the remark greeted with the loudest cheer of those in attendance:
“Jimmy loved the A’s.”
“I thank you so much for honoring Jimmy with this gate. He would be thrilled and honored himself, and my family and I are, too.”
Hunter won 20 or more games in five consecutive seasons, including leading the league in 1974 (25), his last season with the A’s, and 1975 (23), his first with the New York Yankees.
Beyond being baseball’s biggest winner in the regular season for a half-decade, Hunter was a major part of Oakland’s three-peat championship run from 1972-74. He appeared in 13 postseason games over that stretch, going 7-1 with a 2.24 ERA, and got the final out in Game 1 of the 1974 World Series to record a save three days after tossing 7 shutout frames in Game 4 of the ALCS.
The ceremony’s emcee, former All-Star catcher and current TV color commentary man, Ray Fosse said that was what best personified the person Hunter was. He recalled learning that the ace had gone to the bullpen in Los Angeles under the field after telling then-manager Alvin Dark he could give the club an out.
“you talk about somebody you’d want to spend time with, go hunting with, drive around in a pick-up with and just BS, Cat was the guy.”
Rudi also remembered Hunter’s departure after the 1974 season as what brought the team’s run of dominance to an end:
“Cat was like the glue that kept our pitching staff, and basically our club, together. When he left after ’74 it was like a gaping hole that we were never able to fill.”
While that group was together, though, the A’s accomplished what only two teams have done in more than a century of baseball — winning three straight championships.
That, along with the organization’s nine total titles, is something current team president Dave Kaval thinks must be further honored:
“I think, with the history of these gentlemen and what they were able to do, we need to celebrate that better as an organization. When we move into a new stadium — here in Oakland, we’re committed to this city — we’re going have a museum that honors the history of that team, as well as all of the other special teams that we’ve had here in Oakland and all the way back in to Kansas City and all the way back into Philadelphia.”
The dedication of the “Jim Catfish Hunter Gate” is part two in Kaval’s journey of honoring that past, following the naming of “Rickey Henderson Field” on Opening Day.
Manager Bob Melvin, who spent 10 seasons in the big leagues after growing up in the Bay Area, said there is no better time than now to pay homage o the A’s starts of yesteryear, he told SFBay:
“We’re really embracing the past here, and our organization, this is one of the great organizations in all of baseball with a history of World Championships and Hal-of-Fame players — star-caliber guys — so I think the timing is great.
“It’s good that these guys are still around, too, and these guys understand the history and what this organization is all about.”
Kaval has not hinted at which of the five former A’s to have their numbers retired would be honored next. About “Catfish,” though, he said:
“This physical representation of Catfish — what he meant to our organization and our community — is going to last the test of time, first here at the Coliseum, for our remaining years here, and then at our new ballpark. He will be honored in a very special way there as well.”
Despite his not being a household name among the game’s casual fans, Hunter’s place in baseball lore was solidified with his 1987 Hall of Fame induction. His place in the collective hearts of A’s fans is unwavering. And now, his place on the face of the franchise to which he gave so many memories is solidified.